International justice: what role for civil society ?


On 17 July 1998, the Rome Statute laid the foundation for the International Criminal Court and the date became the Day of International Justice. But the fight against impunity goes far beyond this institution, which has limited jurisdiction. States as well as civil society play a complementary and fundamental role, primarily thanks to a powerful legal tool: universal jurisdiction.

To encourage the use of this principle by other actors, TRIAL International publishes since 2015 its Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review (UJAR) which analyzes the most important cases worldwide.@Will Baxter/TRIAL International

Thanks to the principle of universal jurisdiction, we dispose of an efficient instrument at the service of justice. According to this principle, which is being employed more and more frequently, states have the option —and sometimes the obligation—to prosecute perpetrator(s) of international crimes regardless of where the crimes may have been committed or of the nationality of the victims or perpetrators. Some crimes are so serious that they constitute offenses against all humankind.

Historic verdicts are on the rise, including in Switzerland. The war crimes conviction of Alieu Kosiah, a former Liberian rebel commander, is remarkable in many respects. We hope that this trial will pave the way for a more voluntary Swiss policy.

Universal jurisdiction is a powerful tool at the service of states who give themselves the means to use it. But the role of civil society is no less essential. NGOs are the most likely to investigate and document serious human rights violations, as they are present on the ground and work in a network.

It is also NGOs who regularly track down perpetrators or suspects and who, like TRIAL International, alert the authorities and take legal action at the national level. Finally, they are the ones who provide the legal expertise and raise awareness among the judicial authorities on the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Without the ongoing work of NGOs, universal jurisdiction would have remained an interesting legal concept. However, today, it is one of the most promising legal instruments in the fight against impunity. We therefore seize this symbolic date to pay tribute to all of our partners, organizations and individuals, who are passionately committed to international justice!

You are increasingly many to follow and support. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Please read our latest news, as well as our 2020 Activity Report, which retraces the successes of the past year. You can also watch the webinar on universal jurisdiction that took place in June on YouTube.

In order to continue our work and ensure that survivors of the worst atrocities have access to justice, we need you. Make a donation today, on International Justice Day, and join us in the fight against impunity!




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